Koenraad Van Lier was appalled when he saw the environmental degradation at a beach on his new home of Burgazada: so he decided to make the trash into art.Madam Martha Koyu is one of the few natural beaches left on the island of Burgazada, with no entrance fee or concrete structures, and it’s renowned for sweeping views of the city and breathtaking sunsets. But when the Dutch artist Koenraad Van Lier first saw it, he was shocked by the trash that had spoiled the beauty of the bay. He felt the need to take action.
“Being aware of the big footprint we leave on this planet, I’m also convinced that even a little contribution to the wellbeing of the environment can work magic,” Van Lier told The Guide Istanbul. “That’s why I started to clean up the beach, to build a garden, and to use the waste materials—when not recyclable—in my artworks.”
A short ferry ride from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul, the Princes’ Islands were once known for their lush vegetation and unspoiled nature. Although it is illegal, many still choice to camp in Martha Koyu—a 30-minute walk from Burgazada’s main pier. But the signs of pollution were becoming increasingly clear: plastic, cigarette butts, burned-out grills, and ketchup bottles abandoned on the beach or floating in the water. Moreover, when the strong southwestern lodos wind blows, more trash washes up on the shore.
When visiting Istanbul a few years ago, Van Lier fell in love with it. After a short period living in the city center, he decided to settle in peaceful Burgazada in 2016. He established an atelier on his terrace, where some of his artwork is on display.
Now much of his focus is on the shore. Inspired by artists such as Piet Mondriaan and Mark Rothko, Van Lier paints abstract landscapes and natural scenes, and makes sculptures using pieces of ceramic or glass brought by the sea. He is experimenting with local red clay, and has begun baking beautiful terracotta pots in the wood oven he built on the beach.
A huge amphitheatre-like sculpture he designed in the shape of a raindrop enclosing a spiral also lies on the beach. “The drop expresses the idea that my work may be like a drop in the sea, but still, this drop can make a little difference,” explained Van Lier. “The logarithmic spiral—a symbol that can be spotted in many natural elements like shells or galaxies—represents growth, change, the never-ending cycle of nature, and its ability to use its own strengths to recover, despite the heavy pressure we put on it.”
The protective walls of this open-air artwork are made from local rock—rich in minerals and iron—and clay, while the spiral is a mix of asphalt and tile debris Van Lier collected on the beach. “I used the remaining construction materials as a basis that, covered with compost and soil, constitutes a good foundation and a protection for plants to grow,” he said.
You can find Van Lier on the beach most days and he’s always keen to show people his creations. In fact, some people have started to contribute to the project by giving him seeds and even little trees to plant.
The results of his hard work are visible (and edible!): delicious tomatoes, cucumbers, and other fruits, vegetables, and herbs are growing on what was, until recently, polluted, suffering land. Now, the beach has a whole new life.